Crews seek way to survive the Doldrums Tactical moves near Equator can propel a boat to victory in the leg

Week in review


With the heady first few days of the Whitbread a week behind them, skippers and crews are beginning to look ahead to the Doldrums, a strategically important belt of light, unpredictable winds near the Equator.

During the past couple of days, the leaders have been sailing in lighter winds and the rest of the 10-boat fleet has been slowly gaining, with Chessie Racing moving solidly into 4th place ahead of Silk Cut (Britain).

"We obviously lost a bit to the boats behind, and it's now a very close race in the front [of the fleet]," said Kvaerner Innovation skipper Knut Frostad.

While Kvaerner Innovation (Norway) has held first place, Merit Cup (Monaco) and EF Language (Sweden) have been battling over second, and often swapping positions at each 6-hour check-in.

But even as the leaders are within 400 miles of the Cape Verde Islands off the western hump of Africa, skippers and tacticians already are thinking about the Doldrums.

Merit Cup skipper Grant Dalton, a veteran of several Whitbreads, said an important tactical decision is when to head south and in about a week's time approach the Doldrums with the best angle.

"The move is one of the most important of the first leg and gives navigators deep furrows in their brow," Dalton said.

Boats that pass the Doldrums quickly and with a good line to the leg's first turning point at Fernando de Noronha island at the eastern tip of Brazil could have a decided advantage for the balance of the leg to Cape Town.

The forecast for the next few days calls for east to northeast winds reaching speeds in the teens during the day and falling off at night.

All the crews are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the northeast tradewinds, which eventually should fill in from behind the fleet and allow the trailing boats to gain more on the leaders.

Pub Date: 10/01/97

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